Skip to content

Parashat Ki Tetze 5779 — 09/14/2019

Parashat Ki Tetze 5779 — 09/14/2019

Deut. 21:10 – 25:18

Memory is a very powerful force. Through memory, traditions can be passed from generation to generation. Memories weave moments into lives and lives into communities. Memory lets us reflect on our experiences and find meaning in them. Communal memories are made out of individual memories, searing the great events of our life as a people into our collective consciousness. Rabbi Sacks tells us:

Judaism is a religion of memory. The verb zakhor appears no fewer than 169 times in the Hebrew Bible. “Remember that you were strangers in Egypt”; “Remember the days of old”; “Remember the seventh day to keep it holy”; Memory, for Jews, is a religious obligation.

Our parashah ends with the passage that requires us to remember Amalek and what they did to us when we left Egypt:

Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way as you left Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way, and he struck those who were hindmost among you, all the weakest at your rear, and you were faint and weary, and [he] did not fear Gd.
And it will be when the Lord your Gd gives you rest from all your enemies round about, in the Land the Lord your Gd gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall erase the memory of Amalek from under the heaven – do not forget!
(Devarim 25:17-19)

R. Goldin asks some pertinent questions. Why is the Torah so obsessed apparently with Amalek? No other people, even those who are permanently barred from marriage to a born Jew, come in for such opprobrium. Are we really commanded to kill every single Amalekite? (Saul was, and disobeyed, and Haman was the result.) If we want to wipe out the name of Amalek from beneath the heavens, why are we charged to “remember”?!

First, let us try to get a handle on who, or what, Amalek is. We discussed the impossibility of wiping out the Canaanites, because all the peoples of the region had been mixed up by Sencheriv, a few weeks ago. The same applies to the Amalekites, yet Torah makes no bones about the fact that Gd makes war against Amalek forever. In view of this, R. Goldin writes:

Some authorities, over time, increasingly perceive Amalek as a conceptual rather than as a physical entity. The evil represented by this ancient nation, these authorities maintain, continues to exist and must be eradicated if good is to triumph. An argument might be made that this transition to the conceptual is reinforced by the text itself when it speaks of the obligation to eradicate the “memory of Amalek,” without reiterating the requirement to physically destroy the nation.

R. Yosef Ber Soloveitchik suggests that there are two commandments regarding Amalek. “You shall blot out the memory of Amalek” refers to physical destruction, and is no longer applicable thanks to Sencheriv’s ethnic cleansing policies. “The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” establishes the obligation to obliterate any nation, anywhere, that seeks to destroy the Jewish people. This commandment of course could, conceivably, be carried out, and therefore remains obligatory.

The commentators also point out that Amalek “happened upon” Israel. Amalek, they say, represents the philosophy that life is random and meaningless, which is a symptom of disconnectedness with Gd. All this 3300 years before Sartre! This philosophy, which is so destructive to life, is even more pernicious than the nations who try to wipe out the Jews physically, for this will wipe out the Jews, and everyone else, spiritually.

Now permit me a brief excursion into physics. Physics studies the changes of state of systems. Whenever a system changes state, the old state is destroyed and the new state arises. There is, conceptually at least, an instant between the end of the first state and the beginning of the new state, which is transcendental to them both. Now when the first state is gone, how does nature know to bring up the correct new state according to the laws governing the particular system? It is possible that the new state will be random, not connected at all with the prior state. A random walk is an example of such a system. Step n is determined randomly, irrespective of the value of step (n – 1). Needless to say, the possibility of an orderly world depends on more than just random walks. Rather, when the old state disappears, some memory of that state must be in place on which the new state can draw for its dynamics.

I’d like to try to apply this understanding to Amalek. Amalek represents happenstance, randomness, which, as we have seen, corresponds to a state without memory. This is opposed to Gd, Who is the source of all order in creation. Nothing is hidden from Gd and nothing is forgotten, as we say in the Yom Kippur liturgy. Since Gd is transcendental to space and time, everything that is, or ever was, or ever will be, is equally present before Gd. I think blotting out the “memory” or Amalek may mean two complementary things. First, the simple meaning is to make sure that evil people and evil nations are destroyed. But deeper, perhaps it means to blot out Amalek’s style of remembering – in other words, to destroy the notion once and for all that life is random and meaningless. This is much subtler and harder to do, because it means nothing less than bringing the Revelation of Gd and the redemption of the world. And to do that, we must, first and foremost, uproot the Amalek that lurks within each one of us.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Ki Tetze

Where do we find Teshuvah in this parshah?

The parshah begins with “when you go out to war with the enemy….and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire her….”.

It ends with “…you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under Heaven; you shall not forget.”

In between these statements are about 72 commandments, emphasizing kindness — for example, in the treatment of the captive woman and of the escaped slave who may not be returned — and purity — for example, in the requirement that we not be rebellious against our parents.

With so many commandments, it is easy to get lost in details and to forget the Oneness, but the habit of kindness and the habit of purity and respect tune us into the Oneness for it is from the Oneness that we draw our ability to be kind, to be pure.

From the side of Gd, the Oneness, Energy and Love are always flowing to raise us up, to return us, to dissolve the veils that hide us from Oneness, our own Self.

The haftarah for this portion, Isaiah 54:1-10, gives an example: “For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed, but My Kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My Covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord who has compassion for you”. (Kabbalistic Bible, Rabbi Yehuda Berg).

This Kindness is always dissolving the veils that hide and revealing the Oneness that is Real, that is All. This Kindness is always creating in us: Teshuvah.Returning

Good thoughts to have as we come close to Rosh HaShanah, our New Year and Yom Kippur, our Day of At-Onement.

Baruch HaShem